After getting one of the biggest scoops of the 2016 presidential campaign, New York Times reporter Susanne Craig is infinitely glad she checks her snail mail.
Pressed against a deadline, Craig said she was walking through her office on a phone call a few weeks ago and just happened to swing by her mailbox. She expected to find catalogs and junk mail but, instead, a manila envelope with a return address from The Trump Tower made her immediately hang up the phone.
“I opened it up and there was three pages of Donald Trump's tax returns there and I just went 'No way!'" she said in an interview with NBC News on Monday.
Craig said she was instantly intrigued but skeptical about the authenticity of the documents she’d received anonymously. She quickly enlisted colleague David Barstow to begin investigating their authenticity.
What they learned from the leaked documents — that Donald Trump may have legally avoided paying taxes for more than a decade — made the front page of the New York Times Sunday and promises to dominate headlines throughout the week.
In 1995, according to the documents obtained by Craig and vetted by her and other colleagues at the Times, Donald Trump declared a $916 million loss on his taxes, which might have allowed him to avoid paying income taxes for nearly two decades after. Throughout the campaign, Trump has bucked tradition by refusing to release his tax records.
But Craig said these leaked documents offer insight into Trump's business acumen and challenge the candidate’s frequent claim that he understands U.S. tax code "better than anyone."
"If you know the tax code well, you could be smart but also — I think there's questions about how those losses came to be ... a lot of it was from companies that he mismanaged and filed for bankruptcy. Some would question if that was a smart business strategy," she said.
In the late 1980s and early ‘90s, Donald Trump’s business empire was close to rock bottom, and Trump casinos and hotels were filing for bankruptcy, according to Craig.
"All of that carnage and all of that red ink that he was drowning in flowed on to his tax return as losses and he was able to basically turn it into tax gold," she said.
And Trump structured his businesses so that they were partnerships, which allowed business losses to flow onto his personal return, Craig said.
All of which is technically legal, she stressed, but important insight nonetheless.
“We think the tax returns are an important window into Donald Trump — into his finances and also who could potentially be out there that could influence (him),” she said.
“Sunlight’s a great thing, and we're going to keep going and try to get more information and hopefully share it with our readers soon, before election day.”